Customers began calling the company and surfing to a special Web site Tuesday to order replacements for the lithium-ion batteries that could cause their Dell machines to overheat and even catch fire. The batteries were supplied to Dell by Japan's Sony Corp.
Lithium-ion batteries are used not only to power laptops, but also digital cameras, music players, cell phones and other gadgets.
The problem though isn't isolated to just one computer maker, CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports. Over the past 15 months, HP, Battery Biz and Apple all have issued recalls warning that internal failures in their lithium-ion batteries can cause the notebooks to overheat and pose fire hazards.
Dell, the world's largest PC maker, announced the recall Monday night with the Consumer Products Safety Commission. It was the largest electronics-related recall involving the federal agency.
For details from Dell about the recall and your recourse, click here. You can also call 1-866-342-0011.
For word on the recall from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, click here.
The batteries were shipped in notebooks sold between April 1, 2004, and July 18 of this year. They were included in some models of Round Rock, Texas-based Dell's Latitude, Inspiron, XPS and Precision mobile workstation notebooks.
Replacement orders will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis, said Dell spokesman Ira Williams. He said he couldn't estimate how long customers would have to wait for new batteries, adding that it could vary by model.
The replacements are coming from Sony and a handful of other battery manufacturers.
Rick Clancy, a Sony spokesman, said the company has "taken steps to address the situation ... to Dell's satisfaction." He declined to elaborate on what the company has done to fix the problem.
Lithium has been replacing nickel-cadmium and other materials for batteries used in a range of electronic devices since the early 1990s. The smaller, lighter batteries produce more power to drive increasingly demanding gadgets, such as laptops with high-resolution screens.
Battery packs contain cells of rolled-up metal strips. During the manufacturing process at a Sony factory in Japan, crimping the rolls left tiny shards of metal loose in the cells, and some of those shards caused batteries to short-circuit and overheat, according to Sony.
Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, called the situation "a nightmare for Sony" but said the recall wasn't likely to scare manufacturers away from using lithium-ion batteries.
"Well-made lithium-ion batteries are perfectly safe," he said. "This is a manufacturing problem and not an indictment of lithium-ion technology."
The Consumer Product Safety Commission says the Dell battery's design is fine, but the production was flawed, Bowers reports.
"The battery itself actually meets current safety standards, but they need to go farther, they need to make sure they build safety into these batteries," said Scott Wolfson, a commission spokesman.